Produce fruit worthy of repentance.
John sees a great danger. His preaching is immensely popular. Even the insincere are drawn under the spell of his oratory, and his rousing eloquence is enjoyed on its own account by many who refuse to obey its ideas. He is the lion of the season, and society runs after him as after the latest fashion. To one in dead earnest, as John was, this must have been perfectly abhorrent. Then no doubt there were sentimental, superficial hearers who were really impressed by his preaching for the time, but on whom the effect of it was merely emotional. Such people needed to see that they must have a repentance deeper than the tears of a day.
I. REPENTANCE MUST BE IN THE WILL AS WELL AS IN THE EMOTIONS. It is easy to feel sorry for the wrong one has done; yet this feeling may not carry with it any determination not to repeat the wrong. A wave of emotion may sweep over the soul, and during its passage all love of sin may be buried, and only the most becoming ideas appear on the surface. But they will be but froth and foam melting into nothing, and they will vanish with the retreating wave, leaving the hard rock beneath quite unmoved. There is no real repentance until the will is touched, until the penitent resolves to abandon his sin and to seek a better life. He may well see that he cannot do this himself; his sin is too strong for him, and the better life is above his reach. Repentance is not regeneration, but it is a sincere desire for a new life, an honest determination to seek it.
II. TRUE REPENTANCE WILL REVEAL ITSELF IN CONDUCT. It has its fruits. No one can be really turning round from sin and setting his face towards the light without some results appearing in his behaviour. He will not immediately step on to the pedestal of the saint. He will be still down in the darkness, feeble, depressed, guilty, and conscious of guilt. But every action will show that he is trying to reach after better things, even though they may be still far beyond his grasp. Lorenzo di Medici on his death-bed sends for Savanarola and, in terror of the torments of hell, begs to be assured of the Divine forgiveness. The stern reformer bids the dying man return their possessions to those whom he has robbed, and set his imprisoned enemies free, and he consents. Then Savonarola makes a third demand, that the tyrant will restore their liberties to the Florentines. This is too much for him; he turns away in silent refusal and dies unrepentant - and therefore unshriven.
III. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE PENITENT TO CULTIVATE FRUITS OF REPENTANCE. People sometimes distress themselves with the fear that they have not repented sufficiently to receive the pardon of God. But they make a mistake if they suppose that the exciting of deeper feelings of compunction or the shedding of more tears is what God requires. Let them leave their emotions to take care of themselves, and set their attention on their conduct. This does require thought and effort. Yet the very fact that repentance must bear fruit shows that it is more than a work of man's production. Therefore it is necessary to seek the "grace" of repentance, to pray for the Spirit of God to make the true fruits appear. Lastly, let it be remembered when they do appear they are not all we need; they are only the signs of a right state of mind fur receiving forgiveness. - W.F.A.
Fruits meet for repentance.
Hear a story, or a parable. In a delightful bit of country, early one summer morning, I walked out to be refreshed by the pure sweet air, the sight of fields and woods, grasses and flowers, beasts and birds, when, presently, I came upon an orchard, into which I entered. The trees were beautiful to behold, the air was fragrant, and fruit was abundant. I wandered on almost enchanted, until, to my great wonder, I came upon a tree having neither bloom nor fruit. I was so painfully impressed that, without any thought of hurting or giving offence, and as to myself, I said, "You poor, lost tree, what can you be doing here? I marvel you are not removed." Upon which, to my astonishment, this tree replied, not without tartness, "Oh, indeed, sir; indeed! No doubt you think you are wise, wise above your fathers. -You think you know much about things, I dare say, but you are in a great mistake. I am neither poor nor lost." "Well," I said, "you have neither leaves nor fruit, and, I should judge, no sap." "What has that to do with it?" it broke out. "Your ignorance is inexcusable. You seem not to know that a great Saviour of trees has been down here, and I have believed His gospel, and am saved by grace. I have accepted salvation as a free gift, and, though I have neither leaves nor fruit, I am saved all the same." I looked at it with pity and said, "You are a poor deluded tree; you are not saved at all. You are only a dead, good-for-nothing tree, despite all your talk about grace and redemption. The only salvation you can ever know is to be made living and fruit-bearing. Life, that is salvation. When I come and see you laden with fruit, or even showing signs of leaves, I shall say, ' Ah! that poor tree is saved at last; it has received the gospel and is saved by grace.' " As I turned away, I heard it saying, "You are not sound; you do not understand the gospel." And I thought, so it is, as with trees so with men; they talk as if grace and salvation were something God keeps for them outside themselves, and will not understand nor believe that he who is saved, he who takes Christ fully, and rests on His atoning work alone, "is made free from sin," and " has his fruit unto holiness."
And it ought not to be a mere partial sorrow; but it should permeate the entire constitution of man. You have most likely seen water falling in drops from a rock. There it is dropping — dropping — dropping, summer and winter, during many a century; — but the rock remains a rock still. There are many who shed tears which seem to be those of repentance, but whose hearts remain as hard as an adamantine rock. Their tears are those out of a rock — a rock that never crumbles. True repentance dodos with man as the furnace with the metal. There is the metal cast into the furnace; and there it is heated and melted so as to be shaped and coined according to will. The whole of man should be completely melted by repentance, so as to be purged of all the cross of sin and be remodelled by the plastic influences of God's Spirit, and made to bear anew the Divine image.
Repentance hath a purifying power, and every tear is of a cleansing virtue; but these penitential clouds must be still kept dropping a one shower will not suffice; for repentance is not one single action, but a cause.
Repentance without amendment is like continual pumping in a ship without stopping the leaks.
Thomas Olivers was an itinerant cobbler, who spent his time working, carousing, and contracting debts. He congratulated himself on his skill in defrauding his creditors. This reprobate Welshman was at last rescued by Methodism, and became one of Mr. Wesley's itinerant corps. So great had been his wickedness, that his friends thought he must have had some terrible fright, His uncle said to him, "Thou hast been so wicked, thou hast seen the devil." His conscience was awakened. Of his old debts he said, "I feel as great sorrow and confusion as if I had stolen every sum I owed." He resolved to pay the last cent from money due to him from the estate of one of his kindred. With part of his money, he bought a horse, and started on his memorable journey from. town to town, preaching Christ, and paying his debts. He went to Whithurst to pay a sixpence. Before his strange pilgrimage was ended, he paid about seventy debts, and had to sell his horse, saddle, and bridle, to finish his payments. Such fruits of repentance were followed by great religious prosperity and usefulness.
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